Woman sues Uber for negligence and battery, alleging she was raped by her driver

On April 16, 2023, a woman who had consumed alcohol earlier that evening requested an Uber driver to take her from Corona del Mar to her campus housing in Irvine. She believed it was a safer option than driving herself. Shortly after, she was notified that her Uber driver, Daniel Mercado, was on his way.

During the journey, she fell asleep in the backseat but was later awakened by Mercado, who had stopped the vehicle on a side street near the university, climbed into the backseat, and began raping her, according to a lawsuit filed on November 28 with the Orange County Superior Court.

The lawsuit alleges that the woman was unable to move or escape during the attack, which left her humiliated, violated, and robbed of her dignity and personal safety.

Despite the woman having opted into a safety feature where Uber contacts riders if a ride stops for more than 5 minutes without completion, the company’s attempts to reach her went unanswered as she was allegedly being assaulted. The complaint asserts that Uber failed to follow up on the non-response by contacting emergency services. The victim herself reported the incident to the Irvine Police Department within six hours.

Attorney Andrew T. Ryan, representing the woman, stated that this case is one of several his firm has filed against ridesharing companies in recent years. He highlighted the negligence in Uber’s hiring practices, pointing out that Mercado had a history of criminal behavior, including a conviction for child abuse/neglect and an arrest for domestic violence.

Ryan’s firm accuses Uber of being negligent in its hiring practices, failing to perform adequate background checks, not following up with police, and sexual battery, as the assault occurred while the driver was on duty.

Uber’s attorneys requested that the complaint be consolidated into a statewide master complaint against the company, part of a broader effort that includes 1,533 coordinated civil cases. These cases allege that Uber has continued to protect sexual predators driving for the company and has failed to adequately protect passengers.

The complaint also criticizes Uber’s marketing as a safer alternative for intoxicated women and late-night passengers, accusing the company of prioritizing growth and profits over safety. It alleges a pattern of insufficient background checks, ineffective safety apps, and a lack of cooperation with law enforcement.

In a safety report covering 2019 and 2020, Uber reported a 38% decrease in sexual assaults compared to 2017 and 2018. The company stated that it takes allegations of sexual assault and misconduct seriously and works to take appropriate action on every report.

The parties have agreed to wait for a determination on the coordination petition before proceeding further with the Orange County case. Ryan believes his client’s case is unique and should be treated separately, focusing on specific facts concerning one particular driver and Uber’s alleged culture of reckless growth and lawlessness.

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